Pathmatics Blog

Transparency in Ad Buying: Learning from Kellogg & Breitbart

December 12 2016
A-Bowl-Of-Cereal-With-Toy-Sold.jpgBy now, you’ve probably heard of the announcement made by Kellogg, and several other brands, in regards to pulling their ads from the far-right site Breitbart News. The announcements have caused fury from the publisher, even urging the boycott of Kellogg products by its readers. At the root of this story, is a problem that has plagued advertisers since creatives went digital and entered the programmatic arena. Where do all of your ads actually end up online? In the age of automated ad buying, advertisers simply use an outside service to guarantee them a number of impressions, at a certain cost, targeted to a specific audience. The increase in the sophistication of audience-targeting and technology services available, has made programmatic buying a valuable channel for brands internationally across channels. With every good thing, however, there is a downside. Brands do not know all of the sites their ads show up on.
 

For the consumer, you wouldn’t know the difference between an ad placement that was purchased directly from the site itself, or a placement that was automatically filled by a series of complex actions from ad services and targeted to you by your demographic. You simply just see an ad load on a site. This usually works out well, you’re browsing AOL and an ad pops up for a new product you love, and one perhaps you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. But this is not always the case, as we have seen play out in the media and social media in recent weeks, your creatives may not always end up on the sites you want them to.


Kellogg, AppNexus, et al vs. Breitbart

On November 29th, AdAge reported "Kellogg Pulls their ads from Breitbart Amid Concerns about Hate Speech.” A screenshot of a Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats ad served on the controversial site was part of an online campaign to get marketers to leave the site. It worked, and sure enough Kellogg’s decided to pull their ads from the site. The last Kellogg creative detected on Breitbart was seen on November 28th and Pathmatics has not detected any other occurrences across desktop, mobile, and video.
 
kellogg_creative_on_breitbart.png
Source: Pathmatics US Digital Data, 11/28/16.
 
AppNexus, an ad service, also announced in early November that they were barring Breitbart from their ad-serving tools. Pathmatics last detected AppNexus running creatives on Breitbart on November 16th, 2016. In the thirty days prior, AppNexus had delivered $10,400 worth of creatives to the site. While this may sound like a significant amount, Breitbart was the 185th top site during that time for AppNexus. For comparison, MSN was the top site for AppNexus, reaping in over $7.5M from the service.
 
They are not alone. Large brands such as the Vanguard Group, Warby Parker, Allstate, Nest, and SoFi have all publicly announced that they have blacklisted Breitbart. No ads from any of the aforementioned brands have been detected by Pathmatics since announcements were made. 
 

Who is Breibart Selling Impressions To?

With its 19M unique monthly visitors in the month of October alone, there is still an audience filled with consumers going to Breitbart’s site. Nissan, after screenshots of their ads on the site came out, stated that they place their ads on a “variety of sites in order to reach as many consumers as possible.” This is not enough of a deterrent for some brands, although speaking out can have it’s consequences too. After Kellogg’s announcement, a pop-up appeared on Breitbart’s site urging its readers to boycott the cereal giant. 
 
Google AdX + AdSense brings in the most revenue for Breitbart, responsible for 45% of the site's sales in the last thirty days. Direct deals only represent just over a third of the site’s sales over the past month, led by top direct advertisers JoyfulHome, Wibbitz, JetSmarter, Inc., and AT&T. On the indirect side, or brand’s that are not making direct deals with the site, several large brands make up the top twenty indirect advertisers on the site. Time Warner Enterprises, Nissan, Comcast Corporation, Zulily, The Kroger Co., AARP, Expedia, and Electronic Arts have all run creatives on Breitbart.com in the last thirty days.
 
The number of indirect advertisers on Breitbart is going down though as awareness of this story has gained momentum. Only 540 indirect advertisers were detected since November 29th on Breitbart.com, compared to the 1,155 from November 8th (Election Day) to November 28th. The number of services detected on Breitbart has also declined as AppNexus is not the only service to disappear recently:
 
Novembr 8th, 2016 - November 28th, 2016 
breitbart.com_All_11082016_11282016.png
 
November 29th, 2016 - December 7th, 2016
breitbart.com_20161129-20161207.png
Source: Pathmatics US Digital Data. 
 
The site is still bringing in considerable revenue in comparison to past months. Time will tell if the momentum will be enough to hurt the site’s livelihood. 
 

Who’s to Blame?

Over 52% of digital impressions were served by indirect channels during Q3, meaning creatives were automatically placed through ad services, networks, or exchanges, rather than being purchased directly from the publisher. Because programmatic deals can be cheaper, and offer valuable impression gains, using indirect channels is a strategy used by the largest brands in the world. What they don’t know though, is exactly where those ads are showing up on a daily basis. While some brands have a blacklist, it is difficult to guesstimate which sites your programmatic ads will hit, usually until after it has already happened.
 
"It has also shone a light into a long-standing issue of digital media: Marketers often have no idea where their ads run." -Digiday
 
Aligning a brand, or service’s, values with the publishers who’s sites their creatives are appearing on, is very important in order to protect your brand. Understanding where your ads are being served, especially when you don’t run much direct, is crucial in keeping a watchful eye on your campaigns, and your brand’s reputation. 
 
No need to blame technology, there are tech solutions and auditing tools available to help you see exactly where your ads are running online - and better yet, how they got there. Pathmatics AdRoutes shows you where your direct and programmatic ads are appearing across desktop, mobile, video, and native. See also the top sites and top advertisers for over 700 ad services you may be interested in using. Understand which sites the service has relationships with, and if they align with your brand’s values. Check to see if your competitor is also using the same service, and if that works for your strategy. Take a lesson from these brands and get ahead before the New Year, because the more data you have on the digital ecosystem, especially “under the hood,” the better equipped you are for success. 
 

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About Author

Jordan Kramer

An out-of-the-box thinker with a love for disruptive ideas, Jordan's background spans PR and events for the wedding & hospitality industry in Los Angeles and Scottsdale and also launching one of America's most unique food trucks. She jumped from the food start-up scene to the tech start-up scene in 2013 to join one of the most unique companies in ad tech. Jordan is a graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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